Excerpts from LOVE DE-CODED for PEOPLE IN RELATIONSHIPS (1st edition was titled – I Know You Love Me and You Know I Love You)
Why Do We Need Love
Love as Nourishment
Understanding the true nature of love is the first step to learning how to give and receive it freely and without condition. After all, love doesn’t come wrapped in a cute little package we can buy for ourselves or hand over like a birthday gift. Have you ever asked yourself what love is? Perhaps not, since we all believe we know. We know what we experience; this powerful energy is felt in every cell of our bodies. We translate these feelings using words like “happiness” and “warmth,” as well as “pain,” “lethargy,” “heartache,” and “depression” when we are deprived of it. But these are descriptive terms about how love makes us feel—not what it actually is.
Like plants turning to face the sun, human beings are inescapably drawn to those who warm them with their love. The warmth that comes from most people some of the time and a few people all of the time nurtures and feeds us. When we receive the life-sustaining energies in air, food, and water we thrive and feel energized, but when we are deprived of them, we experience physical pain and can even die. Similarly, when we receive loving energy we also thrive and feel energized, but when we are deprived of love we experience pain to the point that some people feel they want to die. Isn’t Romeo and Juliet one of our favorite love stories? I’ve wondered, “Could it be that love also contains a life-sustaining energy? An energy that makes us feel like we’re raring to go or, when we don’t get it, like we can’t get out of bed?” If that were true, it would explain why I came down with hay fever for years after one instance of heartbreak, and why so many of us are searching for love. The more I studied our collective experience with love, the more I became convinced that the desperation we feel when looking for love is like the distress of someone starving or dying of thirst.
I offer a new classification of love as an energy that nourishes and energizes us—an energy that we can get from another person, whether a partner or a stranger, and also give to ourselves. Love is an energy that behaves very much like the life-sustaining energies in air, food, and water.
We have an expression in English and many other languages: three square meals a day. It pertains to every person needing and having the right to nourishment that allows their body and mind to function. Most adults are capable of getting these meals themselves. We call this self-sufficiency.
Loving energy is also necessary nourishment, so it’s logical to say we should have three square meals of it every day. This isn’t to say that we should only give and accept loving energy three times a day in large helpings. I use this expression here to say that loving energy, like food, is a daily necessity.
We’ve learned that loving behaviors give nourishing energy. When we are respectful, patient, or appreciative, loving energy is being generated for the giver and given to the receiver. In order to be truly self-sufficient, we must use our time for nourishing our bodies and brains to also nourish our hearts.
Let’s see what this looks like in action.
Imagine sitting at your kitchen table or on a park bench, eating your food alone or talking to your partner about work, dinner plans, or your favorite television show. You pause for a couple of minutes to reflect on something like the following:
- I am a nice person who tries their best to be helpful. Even though I wish I exercised more, I like myself.
- I am honest and patient with others. Even though I wish I were more expressive, I like myself.
- I am handy around the house and my co-workers like me. Even though I am working on my temper, I like myself.
These thoughtful reminders ensure that you care about and for yourself—not just the exterior, what the world sees, but also the inner, most vulnerable, most essential part. My clients who have learned to incorporate it into their daily lives say it is more nourishing than a hot bath with candles and champagne and more invigorating than a new eight-cylinder Camaro. And once you make a habit of reflecting in this way, you will find yourself extending the same loving energy to others. You will remind them of their lovable qualities, knowing that people are not likely to feed themselves three nourishing meals of love a day.
Let’s take a look at another set of properties life-sustaining energies have. Besides obtaining and ingesting air, food, and water, what else must we do? Would it be healthy if we only inhaled, ate, and drank?
Life-sustaining energies have a common quality: they are cyclical. That means for us to be healthy and have optimum energy we must eat and drink—and expel. We must inhale and exhale. Have you ever experienced the pain of someone rejecting your love? We not only need love but need to give it.
Here is a funny, touching episode that serves as a good example. My father loved his granddaughter so much that he kissed her nonstop anytime they were together. A precocious three year old, this one time she dared to pull away and told him, “Grandpa, I know you love me, but too much is too much.” He was so heartbroken she’d rejected his expression of love that he didn’t want to have dinner that night, and my mother had to explain to him that his granddaughter was expressing a preference, not that she didn’t love him. Although he had to struggle to control his kissing impulses, he accepted this, and they continued to have fun and give and receive loving affection.
Love has the same cyclical nature as food, water, and air—another indication that it is a life-sustaining energy. Realizing that we need to give love as much as we need to receive it is vital to our emotional and physical health. The difficulty is in keeping that loving energy flowing in a cyclical manner despite the urge to turn the switch off some times.
Can We Learn to Love Unconditionally?
Think of yourself for a moment as an electric generator that can be switched on or off. When we generate loving energy, the switch is activated by our conscious or subconscious thoughts. Most of us turn it on when we feel positively toward a person and turn it off when someone upsets us. Both our negative and positive reactions are mostly automatic, so the key is to learn to consciously turn the generator on and keep our hands off the switch even when we’re upset.
We all need a consistent supply of nourishing love, given and received unconditionally; and we need it from ourselves as much or more than we need it from others.
- Unconditional love is consciously and consistently given and accepted, even under painful, upsetting, and disappointing circumstances.
- Conditional love gives and accepts loving energy only when you are pleased with someone you’re in a relationship with, rather than under any and all circumstances.
During conflicts, loving energy is often either consciously or unconsciously withheld. When we’re upset, we don’t want others to try to be nice or in any way convince us to interact nicely with them (punishing them) until we’re good and ready. Even if someone apologizes, we often reject it because we don’t believe they’ve served their sentence. As I’ve mentioned, unconditional love requires us to receive and give our love consistently, even in the face of conflict, hurt, and anger. But this is very important: it does not require us to deny or disregard our hurt and anger or the behavior that caused it. Big difference! We can acknowledge and express the hurt and confront unloving behavior, all the while still loving the other person.
How To Start Transforming Our Behaviors?
Here are two lists of behaviors that we have control over, if we chose to behave consciously. You can post these to the refrigerator and have you and members of your family start to become aware of your propensity for loving and unloving behaviors. Loving behaviors always feel good, they energize us – unloving behaviors always feel badly, as they deprive us of love.